Your department is extremely busy. Your team has a wide variety of tasks to complete, and sometimes it seems like many of them aren’t even related to your collection. By the time you’re done with your regular administrative tasks, half the day has gone by and it feels like you haven’t gotten anything done. Exhibition checklists, status requests, or other important reports and information can easily get lost in your email, but constantly keeping your inbox up-to-date is time consuming. Even worse, inefficient workflows that require too much paper can have you running around your museum simply trying to get caught up.
Using automated solutions to complete some of your administrative tasks may be the answer.
Building automation strategies for your museum or department can increase productivity, consistency, and even bring a little peace and quiet to your team.
1. Use Free Tools
Free tools can help you automate workflows and tasks your department regularly manages in order to make space for the work that really matters. For example, IFTTT, which stands for If This Then That, has become the free automation tool of choice for many departments looking to simplify their processes. The app connects with other applications in your toolkit, such as Google Drive and your email inbox, to act as an intermediary for your tasks. By helping the apps you’ve connected “talk to each other,” you can set up an automated system that tells your apps to complete a task based on a formula. Essentially, ‘If a task is completed in the first app, then complete a second task in the second app,’ or, ‘If this happens, do that.’
If you’re charged with managing expenses in your department, there’s an easier way to track invoices than combing through your email every month. IFTTT can help go through your email or a photo folder in your smartphone, and log expenses for you in a Google Sheets document.
If your team uses Microsoft, there’s a suite that can be used to create automation strategies for museums.
You can also snap photos of your invoices with your smartphone, save them in a specific folder and sync them to a Google spreadsheet.
2. Create Easy Documentation
Delegation is critical when working with a team, but sometimes explaining the process of a task can feel more tedious than completing the task yourself. Don’t let this stop you from delegating to other members of your team. Instead, create an easy video library of tasks and your process by opening a screen capture tool like OBS Studio. Record yourself completing the tasks, and either speak through the steps or add in notes over the recording to help the viewer understand what the steps are, and why you’re doing them. That way, anytime a member of your team is looking to add to their skill set, you can simply direct them to a prerecorded video manual to help walk through the task.
3. Build Micro Habits that Support Your Newly Automated Systems
When you’re putting new systems in place, give yourself a small push to get the most out of what you’ve built. Take a moment to think about how your new system can work harder for you. If you’ve implemented automated invoice tracking for your email, create the habit of also snapping a quick picture of printed invoices you receive while traveling for work and emailing them to yourself, so that your paper receipts can also be tracked. If you’ve begun to create a how-to-video-library, make sure to save each video with a title that explains what the video is about. Small habits can help to maximize the potential of your new processes, and can quickly catch on and influence members of your team to begin building helpful micro-habits of their own.
4. Brainstorm Your Department’s Tasks
Automation doesn’t happen by happy accident. It’s a product of intentional strategy and a little elbow grease. By building an overview of your department’s tasks (with an online task management tool), and brainstorming how to automate the tedious pieces, you can build the habit of continued automation over time. By creating and maintaining a set of well-oiled automation machines, your department will be able to refocus your strategy on collections care, and maybe find some time for an extra coffee break.
5. Don’t Be Afraid to Let Go
Automation will never replace the human touch, and you may feel that by automating tasks it’s possible something will go unnoticed, or a job won’t get done. While that’s possible, it’s also possible that human error and imperfect memories can create the same outcome. Testing the waters with automation is a great first step, and it’s ok to go slow. Begin your automation journey with jobs that will be easy to manage, to learn how you feel about the process. You can move into more complex automation later, but for now, getting started is enough.
6. Take Your Automated Processes and Systems to the Next Level
From updating exhibition checklists, to completing object photography requests, to publishing images and collections data in your online gallery, museum-wide collections workflows can take a long time to sort out, and a process that works for one team may not work for others. It’s easy for museums that are collaborating across departments to get their workflow wires crossed, and either miss steps, or make tasks more complex than they need to be. Each time you look for solutions, you find a new workflow or functionality that’s meant to make your job easier, but ends in third party software that can’t seem to integrate with your collections management database properly.
Investing in an integrated platform of products designed to support your collection needs with built in automation strategies for museums will remove the challenges and headaches of third party systems, while helping multiple teams to work in their own way, simplifying workflows while saving time and budget.